Thursday, January 30, 2003

AA response roundup: There's been a excellent discussion over at Ampersand's about AA; I was only able to comment a couple of times because my new job has me working all day. Here, therefore, is my omnibus response.

I find the "diversity" justification--the claim that AA makes more a better education by exposing students to diverse cultures--facially correct but philosophically offensive. I have no doubt that education is improved by diversity of all kinds, whether ideological or racial. But the diversity argument has the unfortunate effect of treating students as a means to an end--that is, of objectifying them. In particular as applied to blacks and whites, it makes blacks tools in the education of whites.

If SAT scores and GPA were the only determining factors, many fewer blacks would be admitted to the most selective schools in the country. These students would be admitted to second-tier schools, where plenty of whites also attend. Thus, if the goal is to expose blacks to whites, no AA is necessary. AA is only necessary if the goal is to expose whites to blacks--adding "diversity" for the benefit of white students at the best schools (whites at second-tier schools would get plenty of black "face time.")

I'm not objecting to the creation of diversity with students of equal academic ability; but lowering standards for one group treats that group like some kind of exotic specimen which must be made available for the edification of whites. (As an aside, it's also pretty damn condescending.)

I find that attitude--treating black students as objects which enhance white education--offensive. Now, I can understand that some people consider whites desperately in need of this kind of education, and therefore may dismiss my concerns, but they should at least acknowledge the true nature of diversity-based arguments.

Moving right along: Ampersand claims that because ending AA would result in more segregated campuses, any concerns I have about AA's role in campus balkanization are overblown or dishonest. There are two points here: first, the assumption that ending AA will result in segregation may or not be true in the long run. People respond to incentives; AA lowers the bar for some minorities and lowers the incentive to achieve at a high level. Change the incentives and behavior may well change. Short term, minority enrollments will go down, but long term--think a decade or two--and minorities might (might, I have no proof) rise to the same academic level as whites. I'm sure they are capable of it, and I think a push might be all they need.

But here's the second, more important point: I consider on-campus volutary segregation far more serious than campus-by-campus unintentional segregation. Balkanization, fueled by AA, actually promotes racism and racial strife between people who would otherwise be cheerfully colorblind.

It's no secret and no surprise that black students self-segregate to sometimes significant extent at selective colleges. Un-PC whites make the (racist but true) assumption that many or most of the blacks on campus couldn't have been admitted if they were white; they make this known. Blacks legitimately take offense at being judged by the color of their skin (although they weren't offended when they got preferences, a contradiction rarely noted), and become suspicious of the white community. Leftist professors fan the flames with overheated rhetoric and nonsense charges of racism. Pretty soon race relations have soured for the next 4 years or so.

I'm not trying to blame anyone for this outcome. Cooler heads on all sides could prevent it. But so could removing AA--which would remove the first step in the process. I'm not suggesting that that would instantly make all racial problems disappear; but I think it would help a lot.

I knew lots of whites who, on entering college, simply assumed they could treat blacks exactly like whites. A few brushes with inflated charges of racism quickly changed their attitudes, and even if they didn't become racist, they did become more wary around blacks, a result which I think is very sad. If colorblindness is our ultimate goal, we don't get closer by turning forcing color conciousness on otherwise colorblind whites--especially whites with an negative picture of blacks and an ingrained wariness around them.

Some blacks complain of being treated differently by their managers at work than whites (not worse-differently). If that manager was first exposed to blacks in the radicalized atmosphere of a left-oriented campus, is it any wonder? That doesn't make it right, but it does make it understandable. I think never meeting a black guy socially would be better for the future of race relations than the twisted environment of the AA-impacted colleges.

Perhaps my experience at Williams College was totally unique--or maybe it is so common that it occurs even at open-admissions schools. I can't possibly know, and I don't claim my anecdotes are entirely dispositive. Nor do I mean to imply that I, or whites in general, can't form friendships with blacks or work successfully with them, even at school. But I think that the way AA is practiced--by lowering standards for certain people based on skin color--is worse than the segregative effects eliminating AA might (might) have.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

State of the Union: I suppose that the SoU is obligatory writing for all bloggers. I'm having trouble doing more than make snarky comments.

This is what passes for conservatism today? $400 billion over 10 years for prescription drugs? I particularly like the Democratic complaints about the cost of nation-building in Iraq, for which a number of $200 billion was bandied about. We're going to spend twice as much (just over the next decade, never mind the next century) as the one-time cost in Iraq? Give me a break--that's just liberalism warmed over. And the Democrats are bitching about the budgetary price of war?

Another annoying point: the stirring call to take control over medical care away from bureaucrats and give it to doctors and patients. News flash: the people who pay will always be the ones in control. If you want patients to have control, you need to make them pay. Any reform which doesn't take note of this fact is doomed to failure.

Gary Locke's response was equally flaccid and irritating. I really loved the line about reducing dependance on foreign oil by developing new technologies. Gary--are you referring to the hydrogen fuel-cell cars that Bush wants to fund? Come to think of it, there's another stupid unconservative move--let the market work!

Nancy Pelosi demands that we exhaust all diplomatic options before war in Iraq. Which options are unexhausted, Nancy? Saddam's last, really truly triple-dog-dare last chance? Only sabre rattling has gotten us even this far; if our threats aren't credible, they won't have effect. She also compained that there are other countries who are also behaving badly, and we aren't threatening them. Apparently the Congresswoman thinks we have only two choices: attack all rogue countries at once, or never attack any at all. The notion of dealing with threats one at a time is apparently new to her.

Ted Kennedy says we shouldn't be focused on Iraq, we should be focused on the problem of proliferation of nuclear weapons. Hmmmm... I'm sorry. I wanted to say something funny and profound, but I'm so annoyed at all the politicians of both parties, I can't rise to that level. I'm also annoyed at the news anchors for failing to ask simple, relevant questions of the pols in question. That was simple incompetence--can't Tom Brokaw think of questions on the fly ("What diplomatic options?" "Isn't Saddam trying to produce nukes?")?


Good Reads: Thomas Friedman tells us about the risks and benefits of liberating Iraq. What's so interesting is that Friedman has adopted the same crusading latter-day colonialist thinking of Steven Den Beste. He says that the only justification for invading Iraq is to democratize the Arab world. I'm inclined to agree, but that's an incredibly risky proposition--simply disarming Iraq is much easier. On the other hand, a free and democratic Arab world will do more for anti-terrorist security than all the wars in the world.

So, do we take the huge risk with the huge reward, or muddle through with the status quo?


Work: I've been too busy the last couple of days to read or write anything online. My truck-driving job isn't bad--I've had worse jobs--although today I had to listen to 8 hours of my fellow driver's theories about the income tax. In particular, he thinks it's optional. I've run into that opinion before, but I've always managed to ignore it. But what do you do when he's sitting next to you and won't shut up? And how can anyone seriously think that the "United States" and the "United States of America" are distinct entities?

I'll try to catch up on my blog reading today, but I'll be AWOL from pretty much all comments sections. I'll try to write more over the next couple of days.

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Why the Black-White Wealth Gap Is Important: I was doing my library 45-minute/day thing when I wrote the previous post, so all I had time to say was that I thought Ted Barlow's posts were important, but I didn't have time to say why. This post, composed at home, will explain that.

I've said before that I don't really care about statistics showing that such-and-such a racial group has such-and-such and average income, or does so well on the SAT, etc. My interest is, and remains, individual people. My opposition to AA and other racial remedies is based on the fact that I don't believe that present racism is a significant obstacle to success, in school, in homeownership, etc. etc.

Not that racism doesn't exist--it certainly does--but it isn't such a dominant factor that we should simply assume it was so crippling that we must give people preferences based on race. I'm open to having my mind changed on this point, but most of the people who try to change it make outrageous assumptions--for example, that if blacks are rejected for mortgages at higher rates than whites, it just proves that white bankers are anti-black bigots. (Asians have higher loan acceptance rates than whites--are white bankers anti-white and pro-Asian, too?)

I also reject the notion that somehow slavery and Jim Crow are omnipresent. Oprah's on TV right now--how many white Americans are watching? Compare her reception to Jackie Robinson--the world realy has changed, folks.

On the other hand, if bigotry really were widespread and reliably prevented certain racial groups from achieving no matter how hard they tried, I would probably support some kind of race-based preferences program (probably--it would have to be properly constructed and term-limited).

Here's the kicker: the wealth gap probably is a vestige of Jim Crow. I can't say this with certainty, and I can't Google to confirm it within my time allotment, but it makes perfect sense. Even parents who don't leave huge trust funds can dramatically influence their children's ability to accumulate wealth. A co-signer on a loan can make a home purchase possible; a relatively small gift of $10,000 can do the same (I have a friend who bought a house with an FHA loan and $5,000 down). My grandfather helped my father buy a house; my parents helped me. I could have done it without them, no question--at least partly because they helped me to invest years and years worth of Christmas checks from relatives when I was younger, and I thus had meaningful wealth accumulated right out of college (and getting parental help on college didn't hurt, either).

I still think that it is possible for someone of the humblest background to "make it"--programs like FHA loans help that to be true--but it would be harder than it was for me. And if the wealth gap really is a vestige of legal racism, then it is only right that legal measures should be used to combat it. I'm not quite endorsing race preferences--it would still be better to target poor people of all races and try to help them accumulate wealth. Of course, as always, I'm suspicious of big government, and doubtful that big government programs will accomplish much. But a tax deduction for renters would be tough to screw up, wouldn't it?

Now, this doesn't address my oft-repeated question of why blacks and hispanics get AA and Asians don't, given the poverty which plagued many Asian immigrants, and the strong history of anti-Asian discrimination on the west coast. Ampersand has sportingly agreed to answer this question. I'm looking forward to it (perhaps it will be posted by the time I get this online).


Employment: I have a job! It isn't the most exciting or highest-paying or most skill-intensive--I'll be driving a truck for an auto parts store--but it pays almost as well as being a graduate student. Pretty amazing, huh? This means that my blogging will likely be somewhat more sporadic. I'm already writing most of my posts at home; that trend will continue, but with 8 hours of work plus some evening classes which I teach, I may have even less time for writing. I also can't guarantee that I'll be able to read my favorite blogs everyday, which is a major frustration for me.

I'd like to thank all of my readers, both the regulars and the occasional visitors. I hope you'll keep coming back despite the changes I'm being forced to make.

Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations: My wife is a damn good shot. This is especially true with an air rifle, but also with her .38 Spl. defensive wheelgun. We try to practice once a week; that helps. Last weekend we had to re-qualify for unsupervised shooting at our gun club. It isn't hard--you need a score of 60 with 10 shots on an NRA B-19 target at 25 yards. I did it left-handed, because my new shotgun, with 2 oz. turkey loads, had beaten the crap out of my right hand (the trigger guard bruised my middle finger and made it impossible to control a baby Glock).

My wife was disappointed in her target--she qualified with a 75, but had a couple of wild shots which shouldn't have happened. Yet, one of the guys shooting that day waxed eloquent about how wonderful her shooting was, and how he "wouldn't want to get caught at your house" (He was right on that point). By comparison, I shot an 80 left-handed and got no compliments.

Now, my wife is good-looking, small, and blessed with a Korean face which looks about 10 years younger than it is; all of her co-workers apologize when they use foul language in front of her because she looks so darn young and innocent (she can swear like a sailor). But her girlish looks made this guy think her shooting remarkable--after all, someone who looks like that must be a giggly bimbo, right? Certainly she couldn't handle the recoil of a serious self-defense handgun without screaming in horror, right?

Maybe this guy just wanted an excuse to talk to a pretty girl; I don't know. But it sure felt patronizing and mildly offensive. A simple "nice shooting" would have been polite; his effusiveness suggested either mild intoxication (God, I hope not) or someone who was thinking to himself "Gee, that was great shooting for a woman." Or maybe someone who can't shoot as well as she can. I don't know exactly what he was thinking, but it left a bad taste in both of our mouths.

I'd like to be positive about compliments which might have been sincere, but it felt too much like someone saying "You're really athletic for a Jewish guy," or "You're pretty smart for a black guy." It's nice to be noticed; not so nice to be noticed because one meets a standard which has been dramatically lowered because of arbitrary criteria. "You're a good shooter for a woman" doesn't mean much given that possesion of a penis confers not the slightest advantage at the target range.